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Missouri voters narrowly OK new farm rights amendment

 

By STEVE BINDER

Illinois Correspondent

 

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Voters in the Show Me State last week narrowly approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that supporters say will guarantee the right to farm and ranch in Missouri, an historically strong agriculture state.

And in what appears to be uncontroversial language, the amendment divided some small farmers and environmental groups against some of the state’s largest farm interests, including the Missouri Farm Bureau (MFB) and the Missouri Cattlemen’s Assoc. It was viewed as a way to protect the future interests of farmers and ranchers against out-of-state influences, said MFB President Blake Hurst.

"When you look across the country, you see a lot of ballot initiatives that are making decisions about how farmers can farm," he said. "It doesn’t change regulations we have now, and it can’t possibly change federal law. We’re trying to stop ballot initiatives that limit farmers’ ability to use technology."

It was a tight vote; out of 994,974 votes cast, the measure passed by a thin 50.127 percent margin, with 498,751 voters casting Yes ballots while 496,223 voted No. State law allows for a recount in cases when vote margins are within 0.5 percent, but a recount can’t be requested until after the secretary of state certifies the vote total, which is set for Aug. 26.

The measure attracted campaign funding on both sides; the Farm Bureau and other groups raised approximately $1 million while opponents such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) raised about $500,000, according to campaign disclosure accounts.

HSUS officials argued the amendment could shut the door on legal actions against improper operations and animal mistreatment, particularly involving large corporate-owned farms.

"We are not against farming," Humane Society of Missouri President Kathy Warnick said. "We are not against breeding. What we want – and all we want – is humane treatment and care of animals."

The Missouri Farmers Union argued the language in the amendment could place foreign owners on the same plane as Missouri farmers. Union President Richard R. Oswald, in a statement before the vote, wrote: "Supposedly designed to assure the right to farm for Missouri citizens, its vague wording is bound to favor corporations, even Chinese corporations, over Missouri family farms.

"That’s because Supreme Court rulings that a corporation is a person play into the hands of Amendment 1 supporters of corporate food control. Amendment 1 in Missouri could grant even the worst corporations the right to do whatever they want when they claim to be ‘farmer’ or ‘rancher.’"

If the vote withstands a recount, the language to be included in the state’s constitution would read: "That agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri’s economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri’s economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state, subject to duly authorized powers, if any, conferred by article VI of the Constitution of Missouri."

Some officials remain unsure just what the amendment will do.

"I’ve read the language pretty carefully, and I can’t see how it results in either the claims the supporters are making or the fears the opponents are expressing," said state Rep. Chris Kelly (D-District 045). "This doesn’t do anything."

According to the National Agriculture Law Center, every state has some form of "right to farm" laws on its books, and in Missouri there remains a 1 percent cap on how much land foreign companies can hold, Hurst said. The amendment doesn’t impact that cap, which will "be there today and it will be there next century," he asserted.

8/13/2014